A parable: feeding the One Bob

January 19, 2016 § 20 Comments

Suppose there is only one Bob.  Suppose the Neeches and the Screeches engage in different practices that they call “feeding the One Bob”.

The Neeches have a better understanding of Bob’s nature than the Screeches (though of course really knowing Bob is not a matter of fully grasping his essential properties from a philosophical point of view, if that is even possible).  Both groups do things that they understand to be ‘feeding the One Bob’, but because of their different understanding of Bob’s nature they have very different understandings of feeding.  The Neeches feed the One Bob by making him a sufficiently nutritive meal, according to instruction from Bob himself.  The Screeches ‘feed’ the One Bob by throwing excrement at his house and beheading people.

There are plenty of other people around too, who are neither Neeches nor Screeches, who have varying understandings of Bob’s nature. Some have more in common with the Neeches, others have more in common with the Screeches, and sometimes it is a complex mix of commonality and difference. These people don’t come into the story, except that who wants to have cocktail parties with whom may be a motivating factor for the insanity which is about to follow, and some of them join in on the insanity.  In addition still other people are wandering around carrying signs that say “there is no Bob!” or “there are many Bobs!”

Some Neech ecumaniacs stand up in the public square and proclaim “both Neeches and Screeches feed the One Bob!” and start carrying around buckets of excrement as a show of solidarity with the Screeches. These ecuneeches seem to think the fact that the One Bob is the focus of the various actions each group calls “feeding” has some significance.

This so outrages other Neeches that they lose their minds, and start insisting that because the Screeches’ concept of Bob is radically incompatible with the Neeches’ concept of Bob, the Screeches aren’t even referring to Bob when they use the word “Bob”.  These contraneeches develop a theory of the essential properties of Bob, insist that nobody can even talk about Bob without first accepting their theories and their understanding of Bob’s essential properties, and go on an Internet rampage.  They insist that the Screeches are not even referring to Bob when they use the word “Bob”, because they don’t understand Bob’s essential properties.

Bob, who at the end of the day is perfectly capable of feeding himself, encloses the ecuneeches, contraneeches, and Screeches in an insane asylum where they scribble things on the walls and mistake their scribbles for the real world outside the padded walls.

§ 20 Responses to A parable: feeding the One Bob

  • vetdoctor says:

  • Advenedizo says:

    I think you are making the examples too complicated.

    Two persons witness a murder of a third. Due to poor lighting conditions, position, etc… they have a different understanding of the height of the killer. One of them says to the police that the killer was tall, the other one that he was a little smaller.

    What it cannot be doubted is that both speak about the same person, the killer.

  • Zippy says:


    I agree that the issue is ultimately quite simple: either we can make reference to particular actual things without developing sufficiently complete theories specifying the nature of the things we are referencing, or we can’t.

    The former is naive realism, a.k.a. “sanity”.

    The latter is imputed in a whole array of different modern theories about language and epistemology. It is ultimately circular: we are supposed to know that we have identified the particular real thing in question because we’ve sufficiently specified it with our theory; and we know that our theory and specification are sufficient because we’ve managed to identify the thing in question.

    So yes, ultimately this is quite simple. Either you accept that we can and do apprehend and talk about particular real things or you have fun in the padded cell of the hermetically sealed mind, cut off from reality.

    But the point of parables is pedagogical, so, this one will succeed or fail based on whether it creates insight for any of the folks who don’t get it.

  • Zippy says:

    Also this one was partly just for fun. Not quite so much that I thought it should be tagged “Humor”, but, there ya go.

  • vetdoctor says:

    You’ve answered a question that has been ruminating in the back of my mind. I can only follow Bob a couple of steps when he makes three twists and a turn and I don’t even understand his question. This makes sense.

  • Zippy says:

    It takes a kind of monomaniacal hyperintellectualism to even engage with these modern ideas about language and meaning. I shovel so you don’t have to.

    I can picture the 50 IQ Downs child at his particular judgment, God saying “Sorry child, but you had an inadequate grasp of the doctrine of the trinity. As a result, whenever you thought you were praying to me you were really praying to an idol.”

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Is God more of a “particular actual thing” or more of a theoritical construct?

  • William Luse says:

    “I think you are making the examples too complicated.”

    Are you trying to ruin Zippy’s fun?

    “I can picture the 50 IQ Downs child at his particular judgment…”

    Good stuff.

  • Zippy says:

    That is precisely what is at issue. The reference-breakers have to implicitly assert that God does not actually exist – that ‘God’ is merely a concept like ‘Gandalf’ – for their reference-breaking to work.

    Positivists in general make their concepts prior to actual reality.

  • Chad says:

    I’ve had a thought bouncing in my head on the subject for awhile, and would like to bounce it off you.

    For me, it’s obvious that to reference something you must have an idea of that thing. To reference a triangle, I must have a concept of what the position or aspects of a triangle are. Even if incredibly wrong in my head, there must be some link to thr concept – if I think a triangle is a geometrical object with four sides, four corners, and must come to a total of 360 degrees of sum of the interior angels; this does not negate the reference to triangles.

    Someone can come along and tell me how the references in my head to what a triangle truly is, and my false idea of what it is, are similar or different. They can explain each have sides, each have corners, and each much always total a sum of interior angles. But triangles have 3 sides and corners instead of 4, and a sum of 180 degrees. No amount of ignorance on my part will make an object I’m pointing at, or the square visualized in my head, a triangle. This does not negate the fact that every time I make a reference, I do successfully reference the concept of triangles, but neither it does not turn either the concept of squares into triangles nor any drawn squares into triangles. If I am explained what a triangle really is, agree, and then continue to insist squares are triangles due to similarities between key parts of the two concepts; this makes me not correct, but insane. Yet I still correctly reference triangles.

    While I do not deny that Muslims refer to the concept of God, and have gotten some of his aspects right, I have not seen any demonstrations that they are not falsely ascribing aspects of God onto another being – be it an idol or demon or simply nothing at all. Such an act logically can happen, and is backed by scripture in which Jeroboam erected idols keep people from journeying to The Temple. Scripture calls this act worshipping idols, and I think you would be hard pressed to say the Jews did not correctly reference God in the same act of worship to those idols.

    This seems to be the correct way of looking at it – the human mind can hold aspects of God, but never the full thing. It can be correct and incorrect in those, and still point towards God. It can be correct and incorrect in those, and point to a different being.

    Thus, the case of heretics is as a child that of pointing at the triangle, without knowing it well enough to say what the geometrical laws defining triangle are, and maybe so badly warped that the child cannot even draw a triangle. A muslim is as a man pointing at a square, claiming its a triangle, and insisting it is a triangle whether he knows the laws of geometry as relate to triangles or not. He may even, as some Muslim theologians seem to, know the laws well enough to correctly describe a triangle, yet still point at a square as a triangle when it is placed before them. Thus you can have correct philosophy about what an omnipotent God must be, yet still ascribe those traits to the wrong being.

  • Zippy says:


    A muslim is as a man pointing at a square, claiming its a triangle, and insisting it is a triangle whether he knows the laws of geometry as relate to triangles or not.

    The presumption seems to be that God is the same kind of thing as a triangle, such that reference to God works in the same manner as reference to triangles qua species of geometric form. Of course there is all sorts of literature in the philosophy of mathematics and there are all sorts of views about what triangles are or are not under various philosophies.

    But one thing I am certain of is that God is not the same kind of thing as a triangle any more than you or I are the same kind of thing as a triangle.

    Thus you can have correct philosophy about what an omnipotent God must be, yet still ascribe those traits to the wrong being.

    That would only be the case if it were possible for there to be more than one God. That is what makes it the case that all monotheists reference God explicitly qua monotheists. (Polytheists and atheists reference God implicitly or fantastically, that is, by denying His actual existence).

  • Chad says:

    The demonstration was one to allegorically show that referencing something incorrectly, as you and many others have said, is truely referencing something despite any truths/errors in the individual’s conception of it, while still being in error that the item or concept he’s applying the reference to is not the thing being referenced.

    If you want to write that off, fine. But I could write off your last several posts using the same kind of demonstrating as “One thing I am certain of is that God is mot the same kind of thing as a story about Bob and his worshippers or an allegorical example of fanfiction any more than you and I are the same thing as those.”

    As you’ve said to Mike a few times – it is either true while being so obvious and boring to be as not worth saying; or it is exciting and false.

    I’ll respond to the second part of your comment in the other thread on spaghetti monsters, as it seems more relevant there

  • Zippy says:


    True, there is nothing with which to compare God other than analogically, whether triangles or Bob.

  • Chad says:

    Agreed. I simply am unsure if you are merely stating that while saying you’re unsure of the ideas I’m presenting, or using that fact as a way to write off the attempt on my part. If the latter, I am unsure why you would take your own attempts more seriously than my own.

  • Alex says:

    Zippy, first let me state I don’t disagree with any of your posts on this topic. I do not think you need to grasp this or that part of Dogma in order to be able to actually pray (in fact, I think Saint Thomas Aquinas explicitly deals with this problem on the Summa). Furthermore I do think that by committing atrocities in the name of God, muslims (or anyone else) are actually blaspheming.

    But I think part of the problem here has to do with how we are able to know people. We are somehow able to know someone with a certain familiarity that it makes possible to reference, to think of, that person as herself. That doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about that person, or even that everything you believe about that person is true. But at some point you start to know that person in a way that goes beyond the accidents, in a substantial way.

    This is different from how we may refer to a stranger or an acquaintance. For instance, I may refer to George Washington by his name. I know some things about him, for instance that he crossed the Delaware river and that he was the first president of the United States of America. However, all the things I know about him are accidents. I don’t have any kind of substantial intimacy with him.

    Well, as far as I understand, we are completely unable to know God in any substantial way, at least until and if we are given the Beatific Vision. The only way to have some kind of intimacy with God, (again, as far as I understand, if I am mistaken here, please do correct me) is through the Theological Virtues, which begin with faith. In fact, it seems to me that without faith, we aren’t able to think about God in any substantial way, and all we are able to think about is a made up concept in our own minds, possibly made to our likeness by pride.

    What I am trying to say is that if this view is correct, the problem might be that people are taking the question “Do we worship the same God” to mean “Do (or can) muslims have faith, as in the theological virtue”. In other words, they are asking whether there is any possible faith left that allows them to have some intimacy with the God they talk about or whether the mirror they have is so dark they have painted over it to make their own god. This isn’t a question that I think can even be answered short of some divine inspiration, but it might help if we understand what concepts are being mistaken.

  • Zippy says:


    This is different from how we may refer to a stranger or an acquaintance.

    Indeed. To really know Bob (as I say in the OP) is an entirely different thing from simply making reference to him, or even having a correct theory about him.

    Keep in mind that the reason I have taken up the subject at all is to address the insane descriptive theories of reference which the folks on the ‘not the same God’ side are implicitly or explicitly invoking. I don’t write to talk about the latest controversy of the day, or to cheer for my team or whatever. There are plenty of other places to go for that kind of thing.

    Let me state it again: someone who asserts that Mohammedans and Christians are not referring to (“the same”) God either does not believe that God is real or is making the assertion based on an insane (implicit or explicit) theory of reference-to-particulars.

    As usual around here, the conclusion that their implicit or explicit theories of reference are insane doesn’t give insight into some new replacement theory. But the conclusion that a particular kind of theory is insane is independent of whether or not some satisfactory theory stands ready to take its place.

  • […] So I’m willing to consider the possibility that we use the word “race” to refer to (technically essences which underly) essential properties: that abstracting away a person’s race leaves us with an idea of ‘something’ which isn’t – the ‘something’ isn’t – really that person at all [*].  Zippy the blogger imagined as a winged unicorn in one sense does successfully refer to me, of course: but successful reference probably accomplishes substantially less than meets the modernist eye. […]

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